I have a confession to make. I’m not that proud of it, but I feel like I need to own up to it if I ever want a chance at a happy, productive life.
As a general rule, I’m extremely uninterested in watching non-American movies.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a xenophobe. Some of my best friends are non-American (Me, for example). And I’m not saying that all foreign movies are bad either. I grew up with Spanish-language movies (Of which there are many great ones) and, being Canadian, I’ve seen and enjoyed my fair share of Canadian movies. Foreign movies like Hot Fuzz, In Bruges and Pan’s Labyrinth should all be mandatory viewing in elementary schools the world over, in my opinion.
Now that I think of it, it might actually be more appropriate to correct my confession: I don’t necessarily dislike foreign films, but I’m usually wary of movies from mainland Europe, mainly because of the darker, more introspective and, dare I say, pseudo-intellectual style that these movies tend to have. Look, I get that not every movie can be a goddamn Wes Anderson film, but does that really mean we have to sign off on A Serbian Film?
I mean shit, I know that it’s extremely prejudiced and ignorant of me to assume that an entire continent’s worth of film production resembles Cannibal Holocaust, but I still can’t help giving these movies a wide berth. That’s why I decided to review Paris, je t’aime, (Paris, I Love You) a 2006 French anthology film, to kind of ease myself into European movies.
As it turns out, it really wasn’t that far from my comfort zone (And really, why the hell would it be?) but I figured it was still worth reviewing.
Paris, je t’aime
Directed by: Bruno Podalydès, Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, Gus Van Sant, Joel and Ethan Coen, Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas, Christopher Doyle, Isabel Coixet, Nobuhiro Suwa, Sylvain Chomet, Alfonso Cuarón, Olivier Assayas, Oliver Schmitz, Richard LaGravenese, Vincenzo Natali, Wes Craven, Tom Tykwer, Frédéric Auburtin, Gérard Depardieu, Alexander Payne
Produced by: Emmanuel Benbihy, Claudie Ossard
Written by: The aforementioned directors, Emmanuel Benbihy, Rain Kathy Li, Gabrielle Keng Peralta, Gena Rowlands, Nadine Eid
Genres: Mainly Romance, Comedy, Drama
Starring: Bruno Podalydès, Florence Muller, Cyril Descours, Leïla Bekhti, Gaspard Ulliel, Elias McConnell, Marianne Faithfull, Steve Buscemi, Axel Kiener, Julie Bataille, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Barbet Schroeder, Li Xin, Leonor Watling, Sergio Castellitto, Miranda Richardson, Javier Camara, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Martin Combes, Paul Putner, Yolande Moreau, Nick Nolte, Ludivine Sagnier, Maggie Gylenhaal, Lionel Dray, Seydou Boro, Aïssa Maïga, Bob Hoskins, Fanny Ardent, Elijah Wood, Olga Kurylenko, Emily Mortimer, Rufus Sewell, Alexander Payne, Natalie Portman, Melchior Beslon, Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands, Gérard Depardieu, Margo Martindale
Plot(s): Paris je t’aime is an anthology film, meaning that it’s not just one continuous storyline, but a series of several (In this case, eighteen) short films, each with their own storyline, director, writer and actors. In this case, each one of the films are named after the Parisian neighbourhood where they take place (Although scenes were also filmed in Switzerland, Germany and Lichtenstein). Some notable short films in Paris, je t’aime include:
- Steve Buscemi getting assaulted in a Paris subway station.
- A beauty product salesman (Barbet Schroeder) trying to sell a product to a Chinese hairdresser (Li Xin).
- A young man (Cyril Descours) coming to the aid of a young Muslim woman ( Leïla Bekhti) after she is bullied by a couple of racists.
- A mime propositions women, gets rejected.
- Maggie Gylenhaal develops a crush on her hashish dealer.
- A vampire (Olga Kurylenko) terrorizes Frodo Baggins.
- An American tourist (Margo Martindale) reflects in broken French on her vacation in Paris.
I feel like the most important thing in a movie like this, that is, a romantic movie that also serves as an homage to the City of Lights, would be to make sure that it doesn’t stray into sappy, overly sentimental territory with occasional pretty vistas in Paris littered throughout. Indeed, there are times in the early going when PJT can stray dangerously close to being kinda eye-rollingly sweet, but it never really crosses the line and remains a very entertaining movie, while also juggling different themes and genres without letting it get out of hand.
Well, at least until the “Porte de Choisy” sketch (The one about the Chinese hairdresser) , which tries way too fucking hard to be quirky, a constant pain in the ass of mine since Napoleon Dynamite. It throws all these bright, disorienting colours at you and tries to make its’ point (About beauty in uniqueness, or something) so incoherently that it felt like it was directed by Baz Luhrmann.
To it’s credit though, the only real hiccup the movie hits after that is the weird vampire scene with Elijah Wood and Olga Kurylenko. And I don’t even know if I would really call that one a hiccup, I just don’t know what I’m supposed to feel after watching it other than confused and somewhat disturbed.
Otherwise, though, the movie does a fantastic job of making the audience go through a whirlwind of emotions throughout, possibly because of the slew of different directors used. The comedic skits (I feel like these comprised the majority) are very well done and never unnecessarily dry or dark, meaning that we end these short films with a pleasant lighthearted feeling, which makes the scenes that ARE a little darker and hard hitting that much more of a punch in the gut. I suppose this can leave the audience feel a little bit numb, which isn’t really a positive, but hey, this isn’t really that big of a complaint.
Another minor flaw can be found in the writing, in that I think that it can try a little bit too hard to be deep and introspective occasionally, which can be muddling for my poor reptilian brain to process, but for the most part, it’s a smart, intelligent and funny script that competently does what it needs to do to set things up for the enormous ensemble cast, which mostly consists of European actors unrecognizable to the average North American moviegoer, which is kind of a damn shame, because they do a pretty freaking great job countering some of their more well known counterparts, such as Bob fucking Hoskins, Nick Nolte, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe and, be still my beating heart, Natalie Portman. Every actor, A-lister or otherwise, does an excellent job of really drawing the audience in and making these characters interesting, which is somewhat tough to do when all you’re given is around ten-ish minutes to make an audience care about that character.
Conclusion: While not without its’ fair share of flaws, Paris, je t’aime makes up for them, mainly on the strength of the performances and the emotional journey the viewer is taken on.